Max Hightower

Sherman High School senior Max Hightower has been in the spotlight offstage ever since he was kicked out of the cast of his high school’s musical because he is transgender.

Now Max, a 17-year-old trans student, and two of his female classmates originally cast in male roles will be back in the spotlight ONSTAGE after the Sherman ISD Board of Trustees voted Monday night, Nov. 13, to reinstate all the students to the roles that had been cast in.

The vote came after “dozens of speakers” showed up at Monday night’s board meeting “demand[ing] the students sing in their original roles and slamm[ing] the trustees for discriminating against a transgender child,” according to a Dallas Morning News article by Talia Richman.

The board also voted to let the SHS students perform the original script of the play as they had planned, rather than a “youth version.” School administrators had, after telling Max he couldn’t play Ali Hakim, also decided that the original script was too racy for high school kids.

After the vote, SISD Board President Brad Morgan apologized to those affected by the school administration’s discriminatory decision, but acknowledged that the vote to let the show go on as originally planned “does not erase the impact this had on our community.”

Max’s father, Phillip Hightower, told DMN that he is glad SISD administrators changed their minds and that they apologized. But, he said, “There still needs to be accountability.”

Phillip Hightower told Dallas Voice in an email today (Tuesday, Nov. 14), “We won round 1! The show is back on as planned!”

Phillip Hightower said 65 people spoke, and “only three or four” spoke in support of the “new” gender role policy.

“Now it’s time for accountability for the pain caused to these kids. The board is going to have a closed-door session Friday [Nov. 17] to discuss legal ramifications,” he continued. “We also learned last night that the superintendent [Tyson Bennett] has done this before in 2015 [when, as assistant superintendent, he] tried to stop Legally Blonde. [He tried] to get the theater department to change all the gay and lesbian characters to straight characters. [He] made the theater department contact the publisher and ask if they could make that change. Thankfully, the publisher said no.”

Bennett was promoted in April 2022 to that position from the position of

Sherman ISD Superintendent Dr. Tyson Bennett

assistant superintendent over business and finance after 16 years with the school district. Phillip Hightower did not say if the Bennett was the one who tried to intervene in the school’s production of Legally Blonde in 2015 or if that were former Superintendent David Hicks, who left Sherman ISD last year to lead Northwest ISD.

After Monday night’s vote, Bennett said he would be “acting upon the board’s direction.”

What had happened was ….

Max was first cast as Curly in the planned production of Oklahoma! back in October. A couple of weeks later, according to initial reports, the school principal let him and his family know that, even though the 17-year-old trans student had been cast as Curly in his school’s production of Oklahoma!, he would not be allowed to actually play the role.

The principal claimed the school had a new policy that only male actors could play male roles, and only female actors could play female roles. The “new rule” obviously ignored the fact that Max is a male actor.

Once the discriminatory “new policy” started making headlines, SISD issued a statement last week explaining that there really wasn’t a policy about male students playing male roles/female students playing female roles — except in this particular instance. But after this show the school district would go back to not having policy about, except maybe in some instances. (I mean, you never know when another trans actor is gonna get cast in a role, do ya? Gotta keep those options open.)

Last week, district officials said that the production, originally scheduled for December, would be delayed until at least mid-January and that students would put on an abbreviated “youth-version” of the show.

Then later in the week, after Max Hightower and Sherman ISD’s decision made headlines around the country and elicited widespread condemnation of the decision, ISD officials changed course yet again, issuing a statement saying, “Sex will not be considered when casting the new production,” district officials announced in a Friday statement. “Students will be able to play any part, regardless of whether the sex of the character aligns with the sex of the student assigned at birth.”

— Tammye Nash